Thursday, September 14, 2006
Father seeks truth in CIA son's death
Several times during my brief visit with Johnny Spann, he expressed concern that he would be portrayed as a man obsessed with a conspiracy theory. It was clear to me he wasn't. Spann was a loving father who, five years after the death of his only son (pictured left), simply wants to know how his son died.

The CIA gives the obvious details. Mike Spann was working for the agency, questioning captured Taliban prisoners at a fort near Mazar-I-Sharif in Afghanistan. He was killed when those prisoners revolted and took over much of the facility. Since then, Johnny Spann has been to Afghanistan and back, trying to fill in the painful blanks.

Was Mike executed? Was he tortured? Or was he shot and killed in those first chaos-filled moments of the uprising?

I asked Johnny why he needs to know this and why he's worked so hard and so long for answers. He compared it to losing a child in a car wreck. He said you want to know how the accident happened, where, who caused it, what kind of injuries were inflicted, etc. Except in Johnny's case, his child was killed more than 7,000 miles away and in a chain of events that few witnesses lived to describe.

When I asked about Mike's final moments, Johnny spoke softly. He said Afghans who were there at the time say his son went down fighting, firing his weapons until he was out of ammunition, then hand-to-hand until prisoners overwhelmed him. But that's where the story stops.

Johnny Spann told me his son lived an honorable life and died an honorable death. I saw evidence of this is all over Spann's real estate office in Winfield, Alabama. Pictures of his son as a young Marine and a proud father of three are on display along with his funeral at Arlington and the framed flag that draped his coffin on the flight home.

I thought it was very interesting when Spann said his son once told him not to believe he was dead until he saw his body. It was a son's way of trying to comfort his father who worried about the dangers of a risky and secretive job. But Johnny Spann looks back at it now as a challenge to discover the truth about his death. He's decided he can't rely on others to tell him what happened. He has to find out for himself.
Posted By David Mattingly, CNN Correspondent: 10:07 AM ET
  14 Comments
Men like Mike Spann were on the front line after the WTC attacks, going after the perps quick-time, putting his life in danger, working with the Northern Alliance, and going after the enemy, with sacrifice. His service cannot be undervalued by giving up the fight now!

I hope he's resting at peace now, and that God looks after Johnny Spann and his grandchildren...
Posted By Anonymous Walttis Nee, NY NY : 10:51 AM ET
Hi David:
As a parent I can certainly understand why Mr. Spann would want to know all the details of his son's death, but I think I'd rather go for the Afghans explanation of how it happened than find out he died in a worse way than what he's been told. We all as parents want to explore all possibilities and circumstances surrounding our childrens death. We seem to have to know if for no other reason than to make it real in our minds. It's very hard to accept the death of one's child without knowing every detail. In this case though I think Mr. Spann should try to reconcile with what he's been told, he just may find out the death was a lot more unpleasant than he's been told, and then he'll have to live with torturous images for the rest of his life.
Posted By Anonymous Bev. Ontario Canada : 10:54 AM ET
Family will always get the PR version of what happened. The needs of the mission come first and if any military/intelligence agency has to lie to make their job easier, they will.

That's just the way the system operates.
Posted By Anonymous liz, Montgomery, AL : 11:26 AM ET
God bless America and our Soliders in combat. We are a free nation because of their fights and every loss is a tragic one.
Posted By Anonymous D. Gradwell Hamburg N.Y. : 11:34 AM ET
Hello David-
What a heartbreaking story. Although I sincerely hope Johnny Spann finds out what happened to his son, in reality he may never know the truth. I can understand a parent being obsessed about a child's death. No matter what a psychologist may tell you about the five stages of grief, the door never closes when you loose someone you love. We have to reach inside our soul and find the siritual peace and strength to get through each day. Mike Spann indeed died honorably and is now at peace. I am sure he would want his family to find the peace they deserve. God Bless them.
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 11:49 AM ET
I served in OEF and visited Quali Jangi and stood on the spot where Mr. Spann died. We had a small, informal tour of the fort by one of the CIA operatives and some of the Afghanis who served there during the uprising. I can only confirm that he died an honorable death, and that he is greatly respected and memorialized by the current ocupants of the ancient mud fort.
Posted By Anonymous Al, Memphis, TN : 12:25 PM ET
David this is exactly why I appreciate 360. Not just spewing headlines and sound bites but constantly reminding us how deeply events effect the individuals involved. I wish Mr. Spann peace.
Posted By Anonymous Carl Malone, Salt Lake City UT : 12:29 PM ET
i don't want to say much, but to Mr. Spann, thank you for your son. He will not be forgotton for serving our country.
Posted By Anonymous Jason Washington DC : 12:34 PM ET
We recently buried my brother who was retired from the CIA since the mid 1990s. The early part of his career was undercover. That meant he could never acknowledge that period of his life and if he had been lost the government would have never acknowledged him as anyone but a civilian. I understand Mr. Spann's grief and wanting to know more about the circumstances of his son's untimley passing. However, we should not forget that from the 1970s there may have been up to 100 undercover US citizens working for the CIA who disappeared or were killed whose families can never know the truth. Their names do not appear at the Langley memorial.
Posted By Anonymous William - Los Angeles : 12:37 PM ET
I am not sure why the U.S. Government cannot have a very private meeting with Mr. Spann and provide all known details of his son's supreme sacrifice. If there is a need to keep details secret, I am sure Mr. Spann would honor that requirement.
Posted By Anonymous Richard, Austin,TX : 12:39 PM ET
This is where the whole secrecy thing gets me again. It is his RIGHT to know what happened and how it happened. You're telling me the great CIA has no idea? bull, they know, they just dont wanna tell. Go Johnny Go, you get your awnsers!
Posted By Anonymous Bill Dietz, Erie PA : 1:03 PM ET
Its possible that things happened as Mr. Spann has been told. The truth is hard to deal with regardless of what really happened. If this was my child, I'd have plenty of options on how I deal with the loss and one of them could be devoting years to finding out what actually happened. Unfortunately, this option does have an impact on the rest of that person's life. I'm not sure a child would want their parents to give up their life too.
Posted By Anonymous jim, Hampton, NH : 1:03 PM ET
All deaths are sad. I lost my daughter in 1999 at the young age of 25. We knew what she died of but we always wonder what if!? what if!?..I pray that Mr Span will find what he is looking for and have peace. Like mine, a child's loss is always very painful but I try to remember the happy times we had with our child, 25 years and I am NOT ashamed to admit that the horror of that day of her death is NOT with me every minute of the day as it used to be. But this is OK as this the only way I can go on with my life....
Posted By Anonymous Salim, Evansville, IN : 3:58 PM ET
Thank you, Mike Spann, for giving the ultimate sacrifice for us. Your children will grow up without you, but they will be so proud to know what a hero you are.
Posted By Anonymous Missy, Fairfield, CT : 8:50 PM ET
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